Friday, March 9, 2012

Manufacturing the Manufacturing Jobs

Keeping with the “job creation” narrative that’s all the rage (in every sense of the word) these days, The Urban Institute recently released a poll study of the top 100 Metropolitan Areas responsible for job creation in America up to the month of October 2011.  Data is organized per sector, and the interactive report, which you can check out here,  shows the manufacturing industry doing particularly well, creating jobs in almost two-thirds of the cities and urban areas polled. 
What stands out to me is not so much the progress in manufacturing (I and everyone with knowledge have been firing blog posts all over the internet for a year now trying to get the general public to see how well US manufacturing has been doing-welcome to the party, Time) as where it is progressing.  The national perception of the Midwest, namely Michigan, lagging in job creation clearly gets a shotgun-sized hole blown through it according to this study.  Detroit-Warren-Livonia is particularly encouraging.  Though the region has a five year loss of 23 percent, the past year it gained almost four, and in the month of October alone manufacturing jobs grew by .6 percent.  Even if that rate grows at half that speed from now on, that will take Detroit’s manufacturing job loss into the 19 percent area by 2013, a drastic improvement from ‘09. 

That’s not even the best news out of Michigan; Lansing-East Lansing has gained in manufacturing jobs by 23 percent since ’09 and a 2.2 percent gain over the past year, making it the clear frontrunner for the nation in manufacturing jobs, prompting Lansing Mayor Bernero’s office to blitz the AP with lengthy proclamations such as this (although I wouldn’t speak so soon if I was Mayor Bernero, being as the volatility of the region speaks to a 1 percent decline shown in the month of October.) 

What’s the real reason Michigan is doing so well?  Bob Sherer, executive director  of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council makes a few observations in Lansing Business Monthly:

“Our fortunes are tied to the auto industry of course, and the rebound is predominantly in this sector, especially at GM’s Lansing Delta Township plant. The higher volume Chevrolet Traverse is now made here and has replaced the Saturn Outlook. Some of the job additions include workers transferring from Spring Hill, Tenn.—and the plant is operating on three shifts while Lansing Grand River remains on one shift. Jobs at supplier plants have responded to this increased production by adding jobs.

Unlike GM employment growth, which consists solely of recall and transfers, many of the suppliers have added true new hires. And since manufacturers use employment agencies extensively to help staff their plants, some of the job gain at local plants shows up in “business services,” and a good portion of this industry’s gain of 1,000 from a year ago is actually linked to manufacturing.”

All good news in the long run: stable jobs running multiple shifts to keep up with high-volume production.  Music to my ears.

It’s not all rosy, of course, as the region once had about 50,000 workers in the auto industry alone.  Numbers like that may not be seen for quite awhile.  Not to mention, the newest local product investment- lithium batteries- have dropped in demand this year to the point where Livonia’s A123 Systems laid off 125 employees back in November despite a $242 million grant from the Department of Energy given NOT to lay off people.  The lay-offs have more to do with delays in the newest hybrid vehicles more than the lithium industry, however, and A123’s partner in battery pack production, GM, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

All in all, the Urban Institute’s report shows steady, if unimpressive, improvement in the sector’s growth and permanence. Of course, I’ll take steady and unimpressive over rapid and unstable any day of the week, particularly when the country’s economic future is at stake.  But that’s just me.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.